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SPAIN: The assassination of Ernest Lluch

London-based Stephen Schwartz covers events in Kosovo, where he has a home. This has given him an unusual opportunity to talk with the Spanish forces stationed there and also with visiting Spaniards like José María Aznar. He sends us this significant report:

"Comments on the despicable crimes of ETA, most notably the assassination of Ernest Lluch, and on the situation of the Aznar government.

During my recent period of work in Kosovo I spent a great deal of time with Spanish army officers, because the NATO KFOR (Kosovo Forces) commander during my tenure there was Gen. Jose Ortuño, a Spanish officer. I often discussed the recent offensive by ETA with them, and came to realize several things.

  1. ETA believes they can provoke Aznar and the PP into some form of repressive reaction. They will not be able to. Aznar (who came to Kosovo while I was there) and the PP leaders derive great personal strength from their intense Catholicism. They believe the ETA offensive is a test in which they, the PP, have to respond in what they consider a Christian manner -- by offering themselves as martyrs for the civic future of Spain. For this reason they will not resort to repression, either public or clandestine. They are strengthened in this commitment by the memory of the earlier Christian martyrs to political violence, during the civil war of 1936-39.

  2. ETA also believes that by killing Socialist politicians like Lluch they can provoke the Socialist party to some kind of armed action against them outside the state. They will not be able to do this because the Socialists will not act outside the state.

Spain's democracy is undergoing an extraordinary ordeal, but I believe from my talks with Spanish officers that it will survive this experience. Spain today is nothing like it was in 1936. It is literate, prosperous, has a large middle class, and has no revolutionary movement comparable to the Left Socialists, anarchosyndicalists, and POUM of 1936.

Aznar, while in Kosovo, made some interesting points about ETA in a private discussion. He described them as essentially racist and fascist in their ideology, based on Basque blood and soil mysticism. He also noted -- very interestingly -- that the two most serious terrorist groups in Europe, ETA and the IRA, both originated in countries that were neutral, and therefore did not defeat fascism, in World War II. Neither Spain nor Ireland ever went through the public repudiation of racist-nationalist ideology that occurred in the rest of Western Europe.

One of my best friends in Kosovo was a young Spanish officer detailed to the Eurocorps in Strasbourg. He said he felt safer in Kosovo than in Spain, and noted that he had lost some 20 friends from his military training class to ETA terror, since some of them had gone from the army to the Guardia Civil.

I have always pointed out that nationalist terrorism is worse in cases where the cultural hold of the nation is tenuous or even quasi-imaginary. There is no Catalan nationalist terrorism to speak of because 90 percent of Catalans speak Catalan. Only 40 percent of Basques speak the language at all, and only 15 percent speak it daily. Catalan was a major European literary language for 400 years, printing hundreds of different book titles, while until the 19th century the only book in Euskera was the translation of Iñaki Loyola's SPIRITUAL EXERCISES. Euskera is not even normatized as a language; it still differs from valley to valley.

All this reflects the fact that the Basques were part of the Castilian political state, over centuries, in a way that was never true of the Catalans, and the Basques were granted their fueros within Castilian state 400 years ago. The Basques had the right of colonization in the New World, from which the Catalanswere barred until the late 18th century. The Catalans have legitimate grievances which they have dealt with in, well, a legitimate manner. Basque nationalism is an iniquitous mythology. I have no sympathy for it or its followers.

My comment: Let me add to this excellent analysis. The "Spaniards" who died in the siege of Numantia were "Celtiberians" (probably Basques), and they have a long history of resisting outsiders. It is thought that the "Moors" who ambushed Roland were really Basques. Cervantes has a passage in which he pokes fun at the way a Basque speaks Spanish. At the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid I was struck by the fascination political violence had for Basques (including Baroja), but I did not sense the anti-Basque feeling which some Franco leaders displayed. Part of the problem is that many Spanish workers have moved into the Basque provinces, provoking the resentment of some Basques. Spaniards were incensed by a recent ETA statement saying that Spaniards would be allowed to stay in Vasconia "like Germans living in Majorca".

Ronald Hilton - 11/24/00